Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go vowed to stop the illegal practice of detaining or refusing discharge of patients from confinement for their inability to settle their hospital expenses during a Senate health committee hearing on Monday, October 14.
The public hearing took up Senate Bill (SB) No. 166 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros which increases the penalties against institutions continuing this practice, and SB No. 697 of Senator Koko Pimentel which seeks to prohibit the withholding of Muslim cadavers in the custody of any hospital, and mandates their release within 24 hours from death for burial in accordance with Islamic belief.
In his opening statement, Go lamented that despite a law in place, the practice of detaining patients remains pervasive.
“Marami pa rin lumalapit sa akin na pamilya ng pasyente, humihingi ng tulong dahil ayaw palabasin sa ospital ang kanilang kamag-anak kahit may promissory note na,” Go said.
Republic Act 9439 was enacted in 2007 to address the issue of hospital detention. Under the measure, patients are allowed to leave the hospital or clinic so long as they execute a promissory note covering their unsettled obligation. The measure, however, does not include patients who are confined in private rooms.
Go also noted that withholding of Muslim cadavers in the custody of hospitals goes against their religious faith which obliges for the deceased to be buried as soon as possible.
“This has to stop,” Go declared, adding that “detaining a patient makes the problem worse because the patient’s extended stay makes his or her hospital bills to grow even higher.”
While expressing his concern for patients who are illegally detained in hospitals, Go acknowledged that hospitals also need to be protected from abusive patients, saying that “we need to incorporate safeguards that would prevent patients from abusing the law at the expense of the hospitals’ own financial survival.”
Quizzing the Department of Health (DOH), Go asked why the practice remains pervasive.
Dr. Rosendo Sualog, medical specialist of the health department, responded, enumerating some of the reasons for the persistence of the illegal practice.
“The law does not cover patients who stay in private rooms, and there are patients unable to pay bills for the private room. There are also those who do not cooperate, such as when they fail to execute a promissory note. Some misinterpret the law,” Sualog said.
As for the case of deceased Muslims, Go recounted his experience in Davao City where a vehicle is assigned to transfer cadavers to their homes so they can be buried as soon as possible.
“Sa Davao, meron pong sasakyan dun naka-assign lang para sa mga Muslim. Within 24 hours, kailangan nailibing na po ‘yung katawan. Ihahatid sa probinsya kaagad. ‘Yun ang problema kapag made-detain ang cadaver. Against po iyon sa paniniwala ng ating mga kapatid na Muslim. Isipin natin kung papaano natin matutulungan ang mga pasyente,” said Go.
“Saan ba pwede silang magsumbong kung unlawfully detained?”, the senator asked.
A representative from the DOH said that families of unlawfully detained patients may go directly to the regional offices of the DOH where personnel are on duty from Mondays to Sundays.
“Pakisigurado na lang po,” Go responded. “‘Yung iba kasi walang access. Nasa malalayong lugar. Especially in Mindanao.”
Meanwhile, noting that patients also now seek nonmedical-related assistance from Malasakit Centers, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office Gender and Development (PCSO-GAD) Chairperson Atty. Gay Nadine Alvor also sought the help of Go on the rationalization of PCSO’s taxes during the hearing.
“Malasakit Centers nag-evolve po, hindi na lang hospitalization assistance pero meron na rin tumatakbo for non-hospital related expenses. Pwede po bang hingin namin ang tulong ninyo. Gusto po sanang hingin ng PCSO ang tulong niyo para ma-rationalize ang aming taxes,” she said.
Go responded, saying “Walang problema. Kung ano maitutulong namin, sabihin niyo, basta ibalik natin ang pera ng mga Pilipino. Up to the last centavo. Sa kanila ‘yan.”
The senator added that the Malasakit Centers will be able to complement the proposed anti-hospital detention measures to assist indigent patients in settling their hospital balance and expenses.
“Makaka-complement rin po ang Malasakit Centers sa mga realities na nangyayari. Unang una, pag na-hostage ‘yung pasyente or cadaver, wala silang pambayad. With Malasakit Center sa ospital, makakahingi sila ng tulong sa iba’t ibang ahensya ng gobyerno. Ang DSWD nakakapagbigay pa ng burial assistance kung kailangan, even pamasahe po,” Go said.
Ending the hearing, Go reiterated that the practice of detaining patients has to stop.
“This practice ultimately prevents the sick from getting the medical treatment because they fear of being detained in the hospital with their hospital bills getting higher and higher each day. This should not be tolerated,” said Go.
He also called for the stricter implementation of existing laws to prevent the unscrupulous practice.
“I would also like to point out that, like in any other law, stricter implementation will be key to achieving the objectives of this measures,” he added.